By MARGARET MERK
Richard Bach once said, "Some choices we live not only once but a thousand times over, remembering them for the rest of our lives."
Growing up, my Nana didn't enjoy school because she was an average student. Her enthusiasm was further diminished by her siblings who succeeded at nearly everything. "It came easy for them and I had to study for everything. It was frustrating," she said.
Her loss of interest combined with her increasing responsibilities at home attributed to mediocre grades. However, she succeeded in some of her classes like business, bookkeeping and English. "Those classes had some of my favorite teachers. They were sincere and fun. There's few teachers like that today," she said.
My grandmother claims that "life would have been easier and less stressful" had she continued to college. She admits that her lack of interest in high school spawned years of regret and disappointment. She faced financial burdens throughout her adult life that possibly could have been avoided had she gone to college. Although, she didn't have much of a choice when it came to stopping her education.
After her daily dismissal from school, my grandmother usually went home to do chores. When they were done, she would meet up with her closest friends at the Chere, a local and popular diner that served as a hangout place for teenagers. They drank coke out of glass bottles and listened to records of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as they socialized about who was dating who. This is where a chance meeting changed her life altogether.
One day, she was with her friend Sherry Lou at the Chere. Sherry Lou was meeting a boy from Williamsport. Sherry Lou's date brought a close friend of his, Richard. When Richard met my Nana, they immediately hit it off. After what eventually became a double date and everyone parted their ways, my Nana returned home to take a walk around the block with her mother. She described the fun time she had. After only knowing Richard for a few hours, she said, "That's the guy I'm gonna marry."
After months of dating, Nana and Richard were inseparable. The unexpected death of my Nana's father when she was just 18 left her in a perpetual state of sadness. Richard was on leave from his military post and made the decision to ask my Nana to marry him. On that night they rushed home to spread the news. It was not long that happiness turned to sorrow when they arrived at my grandfather's house and were greeted with a telegram; the news came that Richard had been officially summoned to war.
Richard left shortly thereafter and my grandmother made the tough and life altering decision to stay at home instead of going to college. The early and unforeseen death of her father left her with great responsibility, and the absence of her fiance in a foreign country held her back from capturing her dreams. Letters from Richard trickled in but she never knew when he would return home or if he ever would. What if a deadly telegram would arrive at her door? So, instead of attending college, she stayed and worked as a secretary and waited impatiently for her lover's return.
Several years went by until Richard's dismissal from the military and during that time, my grandmother had grown accustomed to working her regular secretary's job and putting her dreams aside. Not long after Richard's return, she and her veteran love were wed in a small church with their family and friends sharing in their happiness. Eight months after the wedding, they were surprised by the news that my Nana was expecting.
As first time parents, they didn't know the financial hardships they would soon face. My grandfather worked odd jobs here and there, and my Nana had to stop working. There wasn't much money saved when my own mother was born. My Nana went back to work immediately and my grandfather took on a new job at an optical company.
Two years later, another baby was on the way and my grandfather took on other jobs such as a gas station attendant and a cemetery lot salesman. It was during her second pregnancy that my Nana starting having the realization that continues to haunt her today: What if she would have gone to college? Maybe her financial woes would have been resolved if she had a steadfast career. My Nana describes the worry she faced as "exhausting and stressful." However, at the end of each day, both my Nana and grandfather made time for each other to discuss their day regardless of how it went and reassure one another that better times would soon come.
With two young children, there was no room in my Nana's schedule for college and no money saved for it. She landed the opportunity of working at a local clothing store, Geebies, and worked her way up to several pay raises. Here she met some of the friends she still has today. Every day she "punched in," she was reminded of the disadvantage she faced. Everyone that held a higher position than her had a college degree.
As the years passed, my grandparent's lifestyle became more comfortable and my grandfather had to work just one job. Still, vacations were sparse and there were few Christmas presents as bills had to be paid. She worked at the clothing store for more than 10 years and reluctantly retired at the age of 62. When examining her retirement funds, she again wondered how her life would have been had she received a better education.
In early 2002, my grandfather experienced a massive stroke. For nearly three years, my Nana slept by him in the hospital and continued to tell him about her day and how the grandchildren were growing. Although he could not fully respond, he understood as she fed him and held his hand until visiting hours were over. She would kiss him goodnight and promise to return the next day. After all they had survived together, this would be the last struggle.
They surpassed the troubles of war, raising two girls while being financially strapped, and they learned how to move on while carrying great burdens, but this last struggle proved to be one hardship they could not beat.
On a quiet night in 2004, my grandfather passed away.
Although he is gone, my Nana's love for him is as effervescent as it was at their first meeting.
When she looks back on her 83 years of living, my Nana still voices her regret for not getting a better education. What she doesn't regret is having my grandfather by her side throughout all of the chaos.
Her grandchildren have learned to try their best in school and aim high so they can look back one day and be proud of their accomplishments. Sometimes, if they increase a grade, they're awarded with a shopping trip or dinner at a favorite restaurant. She encourages them and constantly preaches, that, no matter what, they should go to college and get a degree to be more successful in life. Although they may never be as strong as what she has become, they can be inspired by the advice she has passed on: "Life has thrown me many curveballs, but I'm still in the game."